Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Beverly Hills psychoanalyst, writes about your favorite film, TV, and book characters
and their real human problems.

  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET — Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street is an indulgently voyeuristic picture of MORE, MORE, MORE, at every level. Money, sex, drugs – there’s no stopping the film’s main characters, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his cohorts, from their purely hedonistic pursuits. And, yet, that’s still not enough. Is Martin Scorsese secretly enthralled and glorifying debauchery, as some critics and viewers suggest? Or, is his three-hour film really meant to take us inside the depraved minds of men who are completely out for themselves and have absolutely no capacity for human concern? What pushes someone, like Belfort, over...

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB — There are two radical choices when faced with a death sentence: jolt into a potent sobriety and fight to live. Or, sink into despair so deep that drugs are a greater solace than fighting the monster killing you. Ron Woodroof, played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey (Golden Globe Best Actor), chooses the former. But Rayon, a transgender woman, played with magnificent pathos by Jared Leto (Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor) can’t stop her harmful behaviors. What are the driving forces (emotional ones, that is) behind an out of character transformation versus self-destruction? Ron Woodroof, whose real life story Dallas Buyers Club tells,...

AMERICAN HUSTLE — David O. Russell’s American Hustle is a cinematic treatise on the complexities of survival. Irving Rosenfeld, Sydney Prosser (AKA Lady Edith Greensley), Richie DiMaso, and Rosalyn Rosenfeld are each, in their own uniquely perverse and destructive ways, just trying to survive. But, are they? If we remove ourselves from the intrigue of the hustle itself (based upon the FBI Abscam operation of 1980), what exactly can we learn about this particular brand of self-serving (or should I say, rather desperate) psychological survival? Each member of this troubled cast of characters is trying to “survive” the limits of their real identities. As Irving...

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY — A mother’s hate inflicts the worst kind of suffering. There’s not one child among the main characters in August: Osage County who escapes. Not Violet, not Mattie Faye, not Barbara, Karen, Ivey, or even little Charles. Most of the film’s immediate suffering is at the hands of Violet Westin, the cruel matriarch of the Westin family. There’s certainly no excuse for a mother’s cruelty. Yet, can it be understood?  Even more importantly, how does a daughter save herself? Can a relationship with a mother like Violet ever change? In some rather twisted irony (at least to me as a psychoanalyst), August:...

HEARTBURN — “’Tis the season to be jolly.” It’s also the season to miss people. Nora Ephron is someone to be missed. She could make us laugh at our necks, and at almost anything. Her novel, Heartburn (a barely fictionalized account of the end of her own marriage), even manages to make us laugh at divorce. Why she turns a sad, disturbing, and even enraging reality funny is an interesting question.” Divorce isn’t a laughing matter. For Rachel Samstat, Heartburn’s betrayed wife, it’s certainly not funny that her husband’s having an affair with a woman who just came to dinner and asked for her...

SAVING MR. BANKS — Saving Mr. Banks takes many of us back to delicious childhood memories of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes The Medicine Go Down.” What we couldn’t know as children is the heartbreaking story behind PL Travers’ Mary Poppins; a trauma so deep a spoonful of kindness would never be enough to turn it around. Fighting Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his team at every step in the making of Disney’s Mary Poppins, PL Travers (Emma Thompson) disdainfully shakes her head: “You think Mary Poppins came to save...

  CAPTAIN PHILLIPS — I grip my armrests. The theater becomes the USS Maersk Alabama. We, the audience, are the crew, stormed by Somali pirates bent on winning their power battle no matter what. It’s terrifying, and Paul Greengrass’ riveting documentary-style film Captain Phillips makes that terror almost unbearable. But there’s more to the film than real-life trauma: for this psychoanalyst, there’s Muse, the pirate captain, and his relationship to Captain Phillips. Could someone like Muse, capable of brutal self-interest, also have empathy? That’s a fascinating question. The relationship between Muse and Captain Phillips, the man Muse calls “Irish,” isn’t so simple as captive and hostage....

  BLUE JASMINE — What happened to Woody Allen? This prolific filmmaker is well known for creating quirkily neurotic yet lovable characters—even characters with depth. However Jasmine French, the lead character in Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine, unfortunately, isn’t one of them. Jasmine, a Chanel-clad, Park Avenue socialite whose gilded life is unraveling before her, is indeed blue. If that isn’t enough, on top of her melancholy is piled every imaginable psychiatric disorder. A woman like Jasmine, who compulsively looks the other way when she doesn’t want to know something, would certainly fall apart when forced to face an image of herself she’s spent...

ENOUGH SAID — If you’re a divorced or divorcing woman, you can probably relate to Eva’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) struggle to open her heart to Albert (James Gandolfini) in Enough Said. Readiness for a relationship after a divorce is not easy for many reasons. But, what undermines a post-divorce relationship faster than anything else is fear. Especially fear that comes with an underlying certainty you will be hurt again. Fear takes many forms. Think about Eva, whose fear is particularly self-defeating. Remember when she’s giving the poet Marianne a massage as Marianne chatters away with one criticism after another of her ex-husband? The man...